Before & After Breastfeeding: A Preparation Guide for New Mothers
Motherhood brings a lot of fun and exciting change to your life. But no one prepares you for the unexpected changes – like what breastfeeding does to your body. As you probably already know, the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous and offer many health benefits for your infant and you.
But there isn’t a lot of talk about how breastfeeding changes your cup size and other physical attributes. While that may not seem like a big deal, it can be jarring to watch your body go through rapid changes quickly before, during, and after breastfeeding.
Greater Than recognizes how these changes to your body can also be emotionally challenging. That’s why we’ve prepared an informational guide for you to know what your journey with breastfeeding can look like, how it changes your breasts, and what happens after.
How Is Breast Size Determined Before Breastfeeding?
Breast size before breastfeeding is usually determined by genetics, weight, age, and exercise. In many cases, breast size increases the older you are and how much you weigh. You can also influence the shape of your breasts by the exercises you do, but remember, your breast size typically corresponds to your genetics.
Genetics plays the biggest role in determining breast size because of how much fatty tissue you have. The more tissue you have, the larger your cup size typically is. But once you start breastfeeding your baby, and even while you’re pregnant, your size increases due to changes in the tissue.
Can Your Breasts Change in Size or Shape Before Breastfeeding?
Yes, your breasts and nipples can change in size and shape while pregnant. This is because of changes in your prolactin, the hormone that tells your body to start producing milk. Not only that, but changes in your estrogen and other hormone levels can change your breast tissue.
These changes also might happen before you begin to breastfeed. When you become pregnant, your body will start preparing before your baby is born. This can include your breast size becoming larger before your milk even comes in.
All of these changes, physical and emotional, are normal. Everyone’s changes look different, and some mothers experience very little change, while others experience dramatic changes.
How Does Breastfeeding Change Your Breasts’ Physical Appearance?
During pregnancy, you may find that your breasts are larger, different sizes, softer, pronounced, sensitive, or any other wide range of descriptions. They can look very different than what they looked like before your breasts were your child’s primary food source. That also means how you feel about them might change as well.
Your breasts can increase two to three times during lactation because of prolactin. This results in denser tissue in your breasts containing milk, making them more prominent than they used to be before you began breastfeeding.
The milk ducts in your breasts are hard at work and can make up to 30 ounces of milk a day! This is because they are expanding in order to accommodate the amount of milk your body is producing. When you breastfeed, your mammary ducts will fill with milk again and again when your baby empties each breast of milk. This can give the appearance of fuller breasts when they fill with breast milk.
What Are Other Changes That Can Occur During Breastfeeding?
Not only does the size change, but there are other physical changes. For example, your nipples may change in appearance, such as color or size. These changes in your nipples and size are your body’s way of preparing to breastfeed your baby.
Your nipples may become more visible and grow in size in order to accommodate your newborn for better access to your breast milk. There are also some changes within your breasts that you may not see physically.
As a result, you may see stretch marks if your breasts increase in size. If you have stretch marks or veins before becoming pregnant, these may intensify in color and prominence during breastfeeding changes.
These changes can occur even if you choose not to breastfeed your infant. If you decide to breastfeed, it can have lasting effects on your breast tissue.
What Happens to Your Breasts After You’re Done Breastfeeding?
Now that you are done breastfeeding your baby, you might wonder what new changes you should expect to see in your breasts. Your breasts may or may not return to their pre-breastfeeding size or shape. Again, it starts with genetics!
The milk-making cells within your body begin to disappear, or really, are killed off, in a process called apoptosis. When you are done with breastfeeding, the cells are killed off, and your milk ducts are no longer filled with milk. Your breasts may begin to decrease in size due to the loss of dense breast tissue.
Genetics plays a key role in determining whether or not your skin will tighten to return to its previous size, but it depends on whether or not your body has elasticity. Just as your breast size pre-breastfeeding stage is determined by age, weight (loss or gain), and genetics, this also applies to what they can look like after weaning your child off from breast milk.
For many women, their breasts decrease in size post-breastfeeding. While many of these changes during breastfeeding are temporary, your breasts can still look different after weaning your child off your breast milk.
Your breasts can return to what they looked like pre-breastfeeding, but it depends on several factors such as:
- Weight gain and loss
- Your original breast size
- Previous pregnancies and if you’re currently pregnant
It can be an emotionally challenging time to become accustomed to the physical changes happening to your breasts during breastfeeding and if they change again after you’re done breastfeeding.
How To Care For Your Breasts During and After Breastfeeding?
Aging and pregnancy can cause changes to your breasts' physical appearance. These changes look different for every woman, and it’s not always possible to completely reverse their effects.
Wearing a Supportive Bra
One way to adjust to size and shape while also alleviating any discomfort is to find a supportive bra. Choosing a supportive nursing bra that isn’t too tight can be a convenient accessory for breastfeeding.
It can be a worthwhile investment if you notice your bust is larger or increased in size, or your breasts feel full and heavy. Proper support is also key to supporting breast tissue during the day while you aren’t breastfeeding.
Not only does it help alleviate any discomfort you may experience, but it also can prevent “sagging,” which is a common fear for many mothers during breastfeeding and after. It can help with shaping, support, and comfort, which can help you post-breastfeeding.
Take Care of Your Nipples
Your breasts, and especially your nipples, will go through a lot during the breastfeeding stage. Ensuring you are treating any nipple sensitivity, bleeding, cracking, and your baby’s latch will ensure no damage to your nipples.
Wear breast pads to soak up any breast milk from leaking breasts. If you do, make sure to change them when they become wet because germs can grow from dampness. Using clean, dry nursing pads can help prevent infections and sore nipples.
Getting your baby to latch on correctly will help prevent clogged nipples or milk ducts, sore nipples, and breast engorgement.
Take time to make sure you remove your baby correctly from your breast after they’re finished with each feeding. This means gently breaking the suction between their mouth and your breast instead of removing them.
Some ointments that can help treat your nipples are:
- Coconut oil
- Calendula-based creams
Consider talking to your doctor if you are experiencing nipple pain that cannot be treated with mild creams.
It’s important during and after breastfeeding to ensure you have good hygiene when it comes to your breasts.
Greater Than For Better Support
At Greater Than, we know how many rewards being a mother can have, but we also know the emotional challenges that come along with it.
Pregnancy and breastfeeding contribute to your breasts going through significant physical changes. Taking care of your breasts and maintaining good hygiene during breastfeeding can help you stay healthy, prevent breast issues that could impact breastfeeding, and help you wean your baby off of your breast milk.
Take it easy on yourself and know that you and your body are doing a great job taking care of your baby. These changes may not be easy, but give yourself time to adjust. Consider talking with your partner, trusted friend, family member, professional, or a local breastfeeding group for assistance and emotional support.
Many of these changes are temporary, and there are solutions to help minimize the effects of what your breasts will go through.